The Duluth International Airport (DLH) recently submitted its application to secure federal funding for a direct flight to Denver.
The U.S. Department of Transportation grant would fund around 70% of the project’s more than $1.1 million price tag, with the local businesses and entities supporting the remaining costs. Establishing this route would decrease air fares, as well as give Duluth residents and businesses easier access to western cities, according to the grant application.
“We are very hopeful. We think we have a strong application,” said Tom Werner, executive director of DLH. “We think the airline can be profitable on this route (and) the community and the region will support it.”
As early as May or June next year, Duluth could be connected to the Denver International Airport via United Airlines if it receives the grant. It could bring around $12 million annually to the region, the application read.
“Nonstop service to Denver is very important to the long-term economic vitality of the northern Minnesota region, and would be a huge first step in developing regional tourism from a drive market to more of a national footprint,” the application read.
The route would add 30 one-stop connections to western cities, Werner said. Meaning, it would only take one connecting stop at Denver to reach a new network of western cities.
In addition to increasing people’s access to vacation spots or visiting family, it would also boost the local businesses, Werner said.
“By adding these services, businesses are able to use efficient services … to grow, connect with customers efficiently, and a number of other things,” he said.
The number of people departing from DLH has declined by 44% since 2000, causing increases in ticket prices. With increased prices, travelers turn to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for services, according to the application.
This passenger “leak” to MSP could be curbed with the addition of the Denver flight, the document read.
It would also decrease the cost of flying out West. Travelers won’t have to stop in Minneapolis, where Delta Airlines can charge what it wants because of limited competition, Werner said.
“We'd like to stimulate additional competition westbound out of Duluth. And that's why positioning ourselves in Denver on a competitive carrier would really help us do that,” he said.
Marketing organization Visit Duluth, the Duluth Airport Authority and local businesses and entities would fund over $300,000 of the total project cost. Less than $50,000 of the local contributions will come from local marketing entities, which will then be used to market the new route to Duluth and Denver communities.
The application included numerous letters of support from politicians and local businesses, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith; Rep. Pete Stauber; Duluth Mayor Emily Larson; Superior Mayor Jim Paine; St. Louis County Administrator Kevin Gray; Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher; and numerous local businesses.
The chief operation officer of the APi Group, a multi-billion dollar parent company with numerous construction businesses in Duluth, wrote he often weighs the time and costs of taking a connecting flight out of MSP when considering business travels.
“Professionally and personally, the benefits of extending flight service out of Duluth would be incredible,” Mike McParlan wrote.
Even if the airport doesn’t receive funding, Werner said it’s still possible the airport could establish the route because of high demand.
The DOT has $12.5 million available to award to small community airports. Priority projects include ones in towns with higher-than-average airfare, have non-airport funding, will benefit a “broad” section of the traveling public and will be used in a timely manner, among others.